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Sometimes nothing says “I don’t care” quite like, well, …

April 4, 2014

It occurred to me a few years back that there are several ways we can communicate that we don’t care – usually unintentionally.

It’s quite easy actually. One way is by withholding or neglecting routine feedback (positive or negative). Maybe it’s with dedicated people on our volunteer teams who show up every time they’re scheduled and go thru their duties joyfully and competently. Do we offer meaningful thanks and praise? What if they are not so confident or experienced? Do we offer correction, encouragement, guidance, or even criticism? Although being critical is not generally a healthy thing, I think it’s far worse to be silent and offer nothing. Have you ever been in a position where you weren’t sure where you stood? If you were doing a good job or bad job? I think often times people in the role of director can get busy and as long as things are getting by, they neglect to express anything. Few things say “I don’t care” like flat-out ignoring someone. It’s the same with an employee/employer relationship. It may not be your intent, but it can feel horrible and unsettling to the person struggling with uncertainty. The absence of praise or constructive feedback is like saying “what you do doesn’t really matter” or “I can’t be bothered with you”. And that’s not the heart of most tech directors or ministry leaders I know. Even worse is the perception can contradict the “people matter” attitude that most say is important. It can be disrespectful and even be perceived as a disregard of an individual’s personhood.

I think often times people in the role of director can get busy and as long as things are getting by, they neglect to express anything.

Make your encouragements and thank-you mean something. Follow them with a specific example whenever possible. It’s great to say thank you (and we should say it often). But If you’re like me it can be easy to get into a rut of just saying “hey thanks” or “good job” while passing in the hall or on the way out the door. I find that I can blurt it out without thinking why. The problem with that is it can sometimes be received as fake, patronizing, or insincere. Sometimes I have to consciously stop what I’m doing for the moment, make eye-contact and then say something like “Thank you …for nailing that cue in the 3rd song, I really appreciate your attention to details” or “I really appreciate …what you do on our team, including your heart for prayer and the way you care for others” or “Thanks …for checking the planningcenter and coming in prepared, it’s a joy to serve with you.” I think it’s one thing to hand out a more generic thank you when addressing a group, but if it’s an individual, take a minute to make it personal – it requires an investment of time, make it individual whenever possible.

Another way of unintentionally expressing that we don’t care is by actually saying “I don’t care”. Have you ever uttered this? Not intentionally I’m sure, but I recall times when I’ve used those exact words to communicate something totally different. Maybe you thought you were trying to empower a volunteer to make a decision, have some creative input, or take ownership. The exchange might go something like this:

Volunteer: “Would you like me to move house lights down at this moment or that moment?”

Tech Director: “I don’t care, you pick”

What the ministry leader probably meant to say was “both ways work, I trust your judgment, why don’t you decide, we’ll run with it and see how it goes?” But what the volunteer might have only heard was “I don’t care … blah blah, blah blah blah’ blah blah”. (Which can come off sounding an awful lot like “it doesn’t matter to me, I’m concerned with way more important things than your stuff”).

I had a worship leader tell me many years ago that they had a vocalist once ask if they should take the high harmony or low harmony. The worship leader casually and innocently said “I don’t care, you decide”. Some days later the vocalist expressed that they felt like what they did didn’t matter, nobody cared, it obviously wasn’t that important. Now that wasn’t the heart or the intent of the leader during the rehearsal at all, but the perception of the volunteer was shocking.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to blurt out things like ” I don’t care, you decide” when we’re talking about details that might seem routine to us or we have years of experience with or we’re in a staff meeting with people we work closely with everyday. But the fact is we really do care (or should) and so do our volunteers.

Sometimes nothing says I don’t care like actually saying “I don’t care”. As we move into the hustle and urgency of Good Friday and Easter production, let’s take a second to find the best words. Words matter …. relationships matter.

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